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 - Jim Zordani

The night after Nick Bockwinkel lost the AWA heavyweight title to Verne Gagne at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Nick was scheduled to face WWA champion Dick the Bruiser in a title vs title match in Indianapolis, Indiana. The fans in Indianapolis had no idea Bockwinkel had lost the title to Gagne in Chicago the previous night so they indeed thought they were going to see a title unification match. As it turned out, it didn't matter that Bockwinkel had dropped the AWA strap to Gagne in Chicago as the "unification" match with Bruiser in Indianapolis on July 19th, 1980 ended in a draw. Nick did return to Indianapolis on the very next show dated August 22nd, 1980 teaming with Bruiser Brody to defeat Ernie Ladd and Bobo Brazil.  

After battling a succession of the AWA's top babyfaces which included Mad Dog Vachon, Dino Bravo and Tito Santana, Nick Bockwinkel travelled to Japan in late November of 1980 to compete in the annual Real World Tag Team Tournament with Jim Brunzell of all people as his partner. Here are the results involving Nick Bockwinkel from that particular tour of All Japan Pro Wrestling.  

11/28/80 Tokyo- Nick Bockwinkel and Jim Brunzell beat Jumbo Tsuruta and Kazuo Sakurada (Kendo Nagasaki)  

11/29/80 Shimizu- Tor Kamata and Abullah the Butcher beat Nick Bockwinkel and Jim Brunzell  

12/4/80 Ehime- Nick Bockwinkel beat Mr Hata  

12/5/80 Matsuzaka- Nick Bockwinkel and Jim Brunzell drew Les Thornton and Billy Robinson  

12/7/80 Nabeoka- Nick Bockwinkel and Jim Brunzell beat King Tonga and Jumbo Tsuruta  

12/8/80 Nagasaki- Shohei Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta beat Nick Bockwinkel and Jim Brunzell  

12/9/80 Matsuzaka- Dory Funk Jr and Terry Funk beat Nick Bockwinkel and Jim Brunzell  

12/10/80 Utsonomiya- Nick Bockwinkel drew Dory Funk Jr  

12/11/80 Tokyo- Nick Bockwinkel drew Billy Robinson  

Nick Bockwinkel and Jim Brunzell finished the tournament in fourth place.  

For several weeks after Verne Gagne captured the AWA title from Nick Bockwinkel, Bobby Heenan proclaimed he and Nick had a "surprise from the Orient." AWA announcer Rodger Kent surmised the surprise might be a wrestler from the Orient. The surprise after several weeks of buildup was Bockwinkel's new finishing hold, the Oriental Sleeper. Nick and Bobby claimed just as Mad Dog Vachon, Blackjack Lanza and many others had done in the past that Verne Gagne's sleeper hold was an illegal choke hold. Bockwinkel and Heenan also said Nick's version was a completely legal manuever and Nick often demonstrated the difference between the two sleeper holds on AWA interviewers Al DeRusha, Mean Gene Okerlund and Ken Resnick.  

Bockwinkel developing his own version of the sleeper hold and proclaiming Gagne's version a choke hold added even more fuel to the hot feud Nick and Verne had been engaged in for several years. Nick did receive a few rematches against AWA champ Gagne during the first few months of 1981 but was unable to beat Gagne for the championship. Verne's dream was to have one last match and retire as AWA champion. There was only one man that could be Gagne's opponent for that retirement match. That man was Nick Bockwinkel.  

Much like the match where Gagne regained the AWA title from Bockwinkel in Chicago, Verne's retirement match against Nick had tremendous buildup. Gagne wanted to go out on top. Bockwinkel desperately wanted to regain the AWA title and wanted to put a damper on Verne's retirement festivities. Of course there was Gagne's sleeper against Bockwinkel's oriental sleeper. This was a huge match on so many levels. And what better place to have the match than St Paul, Minnesota, the home base of the AWA for many years. On May 10th, 1981 at the St Paul Civic Center, Verne Gagne used his vaunted sleeper hold to defeat Nick Bockwinkel and soon afterward retired as AWA champion. The AWA then awarded the number one contender Nick Bockwinkel the AWA heavyweight champion when Verne retired.    More...

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